May 7, 2010 | by Erwin de Leon
We must combat LGBT intimate partner violence

The tragic death this week of a University of Virginia student at the hands of her ex-boyfriend brought to the fore problems of domestic abuse or intimate partner violence, which plagues not only straight couples but queer people.

The abuse and murder of Yeardly Love reminded me of family members and friends who have been and are being tortured by their spouses and partners.

The type of abuses — physical, verbal, emotional, psychological and financial — and degree of violence inflicted on my friends by their partners vary, but the stories are the same. They gradually lose their personality and confidence and eventually cut off all ties.

“We had plenty of good times,” says a friend, now freed from his tormentor, but still rationalizing the situation. “He had an addiction problem … he had his demons.” Another says, “He’s really a sweet guy most of the time … he just refuses to find a job,” which does nothing to help pay the mortgage, daily expenses, student loans and mounting credit card debt. Another person doesn’t think she can do any better than her current partner who flaunts other girlfriends.

Amnesty International USA reports that intimate partner battering occurs at about the same percentage in same- and opposite-sex relationships: about one in three partners experience the problem. And the abuse crosses race, age, class and socio-economic lines.

There are specific tactics batterers use in same-sex relationships to exercise power and control over their victims. They can threaten outing their partners to family members, employers or congregations. For people with undocumented partners, abusers can use the fear of deportation to silence the abused. Perpetrators of intimate partner violence can also reinforce fears that no one will help because of our sexual orientation or identity. Some abusers even insidiously argue that their behavior is a normal part of being queer — or an expression of masculinity.

Victims of LGBT intimate partner abuse unfortunately receive fewer protections and services. Many LGBT people are denied access to emergency shelters, medical treatment, financial assistance, counseling, job training, legal services and many other services that are routinely prescribed to battered women. Six states have laws that preclude victims of same-sex abuse from obtaining domestic violence protective orders.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, a collection of programs that document and advocate for victims, adds that domestic violence services are often “fraught with potentials for re-victimization that pivots on homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism.”

Violence and abuse in same-sex relationships is a serious problem that needs to be discussed and addressed. Individually, we can persist in being present to abused friends and family members. We can say something if we see something. As a community, we can support organizations and programs that provide LGBT-specific domestic abuse services, document incidents of violence and advocate for victims.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

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